Several years ago, a tradition was started in my house hold. Every year in December my daughter and I would build a gingerbread structure. It started with a simple request in the super market. “Dad, can we buy the gingerbread kit to make a gingerbread house this year?” Well, being an architect, the only answer could be that if we were going to build a gingerbread house it would NOT be from a kit. We would select a building that was special in some way.
Of course, the international Gingerbread Competitions require that all gingerbread structures are completely made out of edible products. That meant no toothpick, glue cardboard or anything else which is not edible by humans.
Once we have selected the building or structure, we wanted to build in gingerbread we had to gather the information necessary to be able to build it properly. In architectural terms that meant that it would have to be in scale to the real building with an up to date site plan.
Google Satellite and Google Street View has helped enormously. I would start by, collecting floor plans and elevations from the construction of the buildings when available and collecting photographs of the current building. The next step was to start sketching out the building to determine how large we should make the gingerbread structure. Of course, the size of our cutting board which we used as the base and the sizer of our oven place size restrictions on us. For some of the buildings I would make a paper model at different sizes before we finalized our decision.
Once we decided on the size, the next step was to figure out how we would build it. What sections would be baked together and the order of putting it all together. This meant drawing in scale elevations, roof and site plans, and the supporting pieces which would be need inside to hold everything up.
Rising Oaks 2012
Our first year we built the house I designed for the family “Rising Oaks”, and made the gingerbread house 30 inches across. It was accurately in scale. Our decoration techniques would not be perfected for a couple of years as we practiced with different edible materials for landscaping.
Lincoln Center NYC 2013
The second year we created a gingerbread Lincoln Center which is in Manhattan, New York City. All the buildings were part of the Center including the newly built restaurant building on the north side with the double parabolic green roof. The real Lincoln Center restaurant roof is covered in grass and you can walk on it the top.
NYC Public Library 2014
The third year created a gingerbread Main Branch of the New York Public Library including the lions out in front who are named Patience and Fortitude. We continued to use the same 30 base and included in this rendition not only the building but also Bryant Park which is immediately behind and adjacent to the Library.
Eiffel Tower, Paris France 2015
The fourth year we created a gingerbread 36-inch-tall Eiffel Tower which is of courser in Paris, France. By this year we had perfected our decorative skills and even perfected the creation of trees. The trees are popcorn dyed with food coloring on small pretzel sticks. We sent a phot to the French Embassy in Washington D.C. They liked it so much they requested it for their Christmas party.
Sears Tower, Chicago 2016
The fifth year we went really BIG! My daughter in college in Chicago could see the Sears Tower from her room, so that is what we did in gingerbread. But we as I said went really BIG. The gingerbread Sears Tower is about sixth (60) inches tall, that is five (5) feet tall. That needed additional gingerbread supports inside it to help hold up all of the weight of the gingerbread. That took a lot of flour, ginger, molasses, and lots and lots of sugar. It was heavy but strong.
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy 2017
In 2017 we took a chance and decided to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in Pisa Italy. This one was only 30 inches tall, but it is round and leaning which created some interesting obstacles to overcome. We ending up using soup cans as the mold for each half section of the tower and cemented them together as cylinders first. This year my daughter’s boyfriend helped. I do not remember the suggestion he made when we were putting it all together, but it was incredibly helpful.
Seattle Space Needle 2018
The seventh year we built the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. That was 42 inches tall. As you can see this structure had its own set of difficulties. The structure is very slender, even more so than the Eiffel Tower was. Many of the decoration techniques we developed for the Eiffel Tower we used for the Space Needle.
Notre Dame Cathedral 2019
The year 2019, (our eight year at his) we all watched in horror as Notre Dame burned. In its memory and in the hope it can be restored to its full glory, we dedicate our annual gingerbread structure to it.
The year 2020 (our ninth year at this) we all had to quarantine due to the Covid Virus, so we selected a complicated house to do this year. Fallingwater by Frank Llyod is located in the south west portion of Pennsylvania.